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    Walker House Dies…Oh, College Days

    I have been out of college for around two years now and, amazingly, I am having the same issues with community sustainability in my new location as I did back in college.  This is both frustrating and a bit sad.  Here’s the basic problem, there are only certain times of the year where ‘fun’ businesses make money and so they just don’t make the cut long term.

    This is a huge problem at UW-Whitewater.  The city literally loses half its population every summer to the departing masses of students.  Now this is hedged a bit by the fact that 1/2 the students go home on the weekends anyway (with weekend being Thursday to Sunday).  So really even though you have these masses of consumers, it is very hard to make any money because 50% of the time you are way under capacity and 50% of the time you are way over.  And, to make matters worse, often times the demands that college students have are so far out of alignment with the demands of the local population that there is little to no crossover in activity interests.  This makes an already tough situation that much tougher.

    A similar thing appears to happen in Dodgeville (and surrounding community).  There are huge amounts of hotel capacity and stores that depend on tourist traffic.  The problem?  Who is coming to WI for a vacation in the winter?  And how can cute, fun, but out of the way places draw traffic if there isn’t a constant stream of people?

    There are great businesses that just can’t make it.  Great restaurant, like the Walker House in Mineral Point, WI- to whom this post is dedicated to, don’t get the traffic they need to make it.  I have great memories of the Walker House in the short time I have been here.  I ate my post-marathon meal there.  I tried to bring in new customers as often as I could.  They even started to know my name, and most definitely knew exactly what I was going to order (Patty Melt w/ the best homemade fries you have ever had).  Heck, they even remembered that I was always bringing someone new.  It had atmosphere.  It had class.  It didn’t have traffic.

    The Walker House is now closed and looking for a partner.  I think that they have many of the right components, but just fall short on a marketing and business plan.  It would be interesting to do some discovery and see what it would take to open up again or what sorts of sales they had when they were open.  Just a thought.

    This just leaves me with that buring question, how is it that some small out of the way restaurants can make it and by word of mouth they get more traffic than they can handle while other places with equally good food and atmosphere can’t generate the same thing.  The only conclusion I can think of is a concept that I read about in the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  Basically you need somebody to love the place that knows people and will spread the word.  You need a reliable and passionate brand advocate.  I guess Walker House just didn’t have enough of them.

    Do you know any great restaurants that are out of the way?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.

    3 responses to “Walker House Dies…Oh, College Days”

    1. That sucks about the Walker House. I thought it was a neat little restaurant, the food definitely was very good and I thank you for taking me there. One restaurant that I can think of that’s not really in any large area, and that’s Roepke’s in Charlesburg. I love that restaurant (best steaks in the world) and it does great. I don’t know the Dodgeville/Mineral Point area too well but I got the impression that there’s really not a lot of people in the area. Charlesburg is near Chilton, New Holstein, Marytown, Kiel, and other towns so there’s more people to be champions of the restaurant.

      Keep up the great posts David!

    2. Found your article, thank you for coming to the Walker House. My wife and I fell in love with the building. It took over a year to buy it, ( more like adopt it) from the past owner.
      I told him you you don’t own a building like this, your the care taker. I feel like I’ve failed. We saved the building, it more updated, and in better shape than it’s been in years. But we fell short in turning the operation over to someone else. But it’s still our fail, we were not on top of every item. As they say, the devil is in the detail , or something like that. As it stands it’s in foreclosure, soon a bank in Iowa will own it, and we’ll have debt that will follow us to the grave. We haven’t given up, just ran out of funds. We know what we did wrong,, your right, marketing. That was the biggest issue.
      If more people had come though the doors, the problems would have been smaller. But with few customers, These problems become big problems.
      We restaffed and were able to cut food cost by 80%, and labor by 40%. but we took too long to make that correction. I was more worried about employing people though the Winter.
      Also don’t turn your back on history,, haunted,, why of course it’s haunted,, but I didn’t want to scare customers. But I find that people enjoy the paranormal.
      As our guest rooms are still open. We’ve allowed a number of ghost hunting groups to
      spend the night. Just think, you can go hunting in Wisconsin, and not have to wear an orange vest, and carry a gun.

      If you know of any idea on how to find an investor,, please let us know. Oh, and your patty melts will only get better. Our son in law will be the chef when we reopen .

      Joe and Susan Dickinson

    3. David says:

      @Joe Thanks for writing. It is always great to get an owners perspective.

      I’m a bit confused by the last part of your comment. You won’t own the building, an Iowa bank will, but you’re looking for an investor? And you’re still renting rooms even though it is closed? Or just the restaurant is closed?

      As for the ghosts, I cannot say I place much or any faith in their existence, but I suppose you may as well run with whatever sells the most rooms and/or food. I am actually writing a post on something similar and will update this comment with the post when I’m done.

      I hope that you can make something work with the Walker House but I just noticed that Cafe 4 may have shut its doors as well. No hours – even saying they are seasonally closed – anywhere on the outside. Too bad. Just Brewery Creek now and, to be honest, while they are good the food is a little $$ for what you get.

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